Three young South African chefs have been awarded the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to complete the Le Calabash internship at Le Calabash, the globally renowned cooking school in France’s Loire Valley owned by accomplished South African chefs, Sidney and Alison Bond.
The three interns, Bongani Ngwenya, Nkululeko Qino, and Thobi Skosana, were all students at cooking and hospitality schools that are members of the South African Chefs Association (SA Chefs), which facilitated the application process, and Bongani will be the first chef to embark on his culinary journey this month.
The Bonds have offered this opportunity to two South African student Graduates each year for the last two years, after consulting with industry doyen Billy Gallagher a few years ago about how they could invest in the future of the industry.
“The standard of entries was extremely high this year, and we simply could not choose two candidates,” Sidney Bond explains. “Our criteria for this all-expenses-paid internship has always been that the recipients must truly show remarkable potential and a hunger for success, along with not having the means to make such an experience possible. We couldn’t choose two candidates from the three – and with the help of a sponsor from the United States, we are looking forward to welcoming Bongani, Nkululeko and Thobi to our chateau in 2018.”
Bongani is a 26-year-old chef, born and raised in Soweto, Johannesburg, who obtained a Diploma in Food Preparation and Cooking Culinary Arts from the National Youth Chefs Training Programme in 2012, where he was also a top achiever. After spending two years as a chef at the Royal Mnandi, he moved on to a position as chef de partie at Silvana’s Bistro and Coffee Lounge, which he has held since 2015.
The internship at Le Calabash lasts for six weeks, and includes work experience at the restaurant, as well as time spent working on a foie gras farm, an award-winning goats’ cheese farm, and with a local baker, as well as visits to local markets and the largest fresh produce market in Paris. All expenses are included in the internship, including flights, accommodation, local travel and a stipend.
“The internship is about so much more than learning French techniques, it’s about exposing the students to the philosophy of French cuisine, including the use of fresh and seasonal ingredients, focusing on flavours, and cooking and eating simply,” Bond explains.
The 2016 internship programme has already yielded remarkable results for its two previous recipients, Megin Meikle and Sikhumbuzo Thwala, who are already progressing well with their careers at a significant pace, armed with the lessons learned in the Loire Valley.